Fall Composting Guide to Keep Your Garden Looking Fantastic Year-round

fall composting

As summer comes to an end, the leaves begin to hit the ground and the temps dip, we embrace what some might call the best season of the year. Fall brings sweaters, football games and if you want your garden to thrive year-round, fall composting.

Whether you’re brand-new to gardening and have no idea where to begin or an experienced pro in need of a fall composting refresher, the lawn care specialists at Spring-Green compiled (pun intended) the composting tips you need to get started!

A No-Brainer Guide to Fall Composting:

Fall Composting Basics – Composting is a natural way of making your soil richer through the process of adding recycled material such as leaves and vegetable scraps to the garden. Compost has a positive impact on your soil – enhancing the ability of the soil to retain nutrients and moisture. It’s great for the environment and an effective way to help your garden thrive.

The Perfect Mix For My Fall Composting – When the leaves begin to fall, keeping up with raking can be a full-time job. That’s why fall composting is a win-win; it can make your life easier and your garden looking amazing. Leaves are carbon-rich and small enough to be easily added into your compost. Fresh grass clippings are also a great addition to your fall composting pile because they are nitrogen-rich. Another ingredient for your fall composting is the dying plants from your garden such as annuals from your vegetable garden or flowers that contain many nutrients.

Here are a few tips for using leaves, grass clippings, plants and flowers to your fall composting:

  • Deciduous leaves work best.
  • Avoid using evergreen leaves such as holly, laurel and conifers.
  • Wait until your leaves start turning brown before adding them to your composting pile.
  • Add thin layers of grass clippings to your compost to avoid matting.
  • Avoid adding plants that have disease or mold problems.
  • Leave thick stems and branches should be left out of your fall composting pile.

Everything You Need To Know About Your Fall Composting Pile – Your fall composting efforts do require more materials than just the ones you find in your own garden such as leaves, grass clippings and dying plants. A few basic provisions and best practices should be top-of-mind as you begin.

What you’ll need to keep in mind for your fall composting pile:

  • Cover your fall composting pile or use an enclosed container. Your compost pile should be kept moist but should not get drenched by fall rains. Using a tarp or enclosed container, known as a composter, you can protect the contents of your fall compost pile from the elements. This will also deter pests from setting up home inside your compost pile.
  • Go slow to avoid matting. Composting can easily become matted. Be sure your materials are blended well by adding small batches of leaves at a time. Too many leaves thrown in all at once will cause matting and hinder the progress of your fall composting.
  • Add to the mix. Controlling moisture in your fall composting pile can be challenging because lawn clippings and food scraps are about 80 percent water. You can add with straw, woody waste or cardboard to keep your pile to soak up some of the excess moisture.

Some frequently asked questions about fall composting.

  • Should I go with DIY vs. Store-bought composting? To DIY compost or head to your local garden store, that is the question. The choice is truly up to you and can hinge upon your budget, your time constraints as well as space limitations you have at your home. Either fall composting is a great way to keep your garden looking stunning.
  • What’s the difference between fertilizer and compost? It’s easy to be confused about this, but the difference is fairly simple. Your fall compost nurtures and feeds your soil while fertilizer feeds the plants.
  • Why should I use composting? It’s an easy effort that can energize the soil in your garden. Composting has been shown to enhance the ability of plants to fight common diseases and helps the soil retain moisture. Composting is like recycling that offers a win-win for your garden.

Now that you’ve gotten a primer on fall composting, it’s time to get to planning. Have the leaves started falling in your yard yet? When you’re in need of total lawn care services, your local Spring-Green lawn care professional is standing by to help. Since 1977, we’ve been providing a full range of professional lawn care services to fit any budget.

For more information on caring for your lawn and landscape, contact your neighborhood lawn care professional today at Spring-Green.

Answers to the Top 4 Questions Everyone Is Asking about Fall Mums

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Chrysanthemums, more commonly referred to as Mums, are a top choice for the fall garden. Fall Mums are a go-to way to add zest to the garden as summer draws to close because of their beauty and hardiness. However, there are a few tricks of the trade to keep these stunners making a splash in your garden even when your more delicate summer flowers are beginning to fade away.

Confusion about how to plant Fall Mums doesn’t have to scare you away from your garden goals – especially since now you have all the answers to your top questions right here at your disposal from the pros at Spring-Green.

Here are tips on fall mums to keep your garden looking spectacular this fall and year-round.

Everything You Need to Know about Fall Mums

1. Does it even make sense to plant Mums so late in the year? In a word, yes! While other flowering plants in your garden are fading away for the winter, Fall Mums are a powerhouse of color and vibrancy for any garden. The cooling temperatures of fall don’t bother mums. Their colors get bolder, and their blossoms will typically last until the first extreme frost.

2. How exactly do I care for my Fall Mums? Caring for flowers is not hard, but it may require developing a new vocabulary! Master these terms and your Fall Mums will flourish throughout late summer and fall.

  • Pinching – By pinching off the top of the plant, you’ll gain a sturdy, bushier plant with lots of blooms. The rule of thumb for pinching is about one to two inches at a rate of every three to four weeks until early July in cooler climates, the end of July in warmer gardening zones.
  • Deadheading – Deadheading, while it might sound like it refers to a popular rock band from the 60’s, is really a term that refers to one of your gardening chores. It is the removal of dead or fading flowers from living plants and is a critical function of your Fall Mums success in your garden if you live in a warmer climate. For those living in cold areas, the arrival of the first frost typically makes this step unnecessary.
  • Feeding – Not a new term, but one to keep at top of mind to ensure your Fall Mums’ success. Fall Mums are heavy feeders that require rich soil to thrive. You should feed your Mums every three to four weeks to improve flowering results.

3. Do Fall Mums come back year after year? Mums are considered tender perennials, which means whether come back year after year is dependent on when they were planted. If planted in spring or summer, they are likely to overwinter and become perennials. It is still possible for your Mums to be perennials if planted in the fall if the temps are warmer while the set their roots. The later they are planted and the colder the temps may change them to the category of annuals.

4. What types of Mums Are There? Many varieties of Mums exist, all beautiful but offering different things to the gardener who know what he or she wants to accomplish. Let’s examine a few popular gardening goals, and which types of Mums can help accomplish them.

  • Make a statement: The spider Mum is a stunner standing over three feet tall with reddish blossoms demand to be noticed.
  • Add bold color: Plant the Jessica Mum with bright yellow blossoms in your midseason to add a splash of color to any garden.
  • Add function and beauty: The French Vanilla Mum is a classic favorite with big white flowers that add classic elegance but also work perfectly when creating a mixed border or cutting garden.
  • Overcome the cold temps: If you live in a cold climate, the Minnautumn Mum varietal is a great cold-hardy choice for you, and its vivid orange-ish red flowers are showstoppers.

The best Fall Mums bloom schedules will vary based on the type of mum you desire and your climate, but best times to plant generally run from September through October. In other words, it’s time to plant your Fall Mums!

For more information on caring for your lawn and landscape, visit our lawn care guide or contact your neighborhood lawn care professional today at Spring-Green.

How Winter Mulch Can Protect Your Garden This Season!

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Adding mulch around garden and landscape plants is a great idea as it will help protect the roots of overwintering perennials from the ravages of winter temperatures.  When temperatures fluctuate during the winter, mulch helps to keep soil temperature around more steady than uncovered soil. Even though it is winter, plants still need moisture, especially evergreen plants like yews, junipers, arborvitae and many broad-leafed evergreen plants still require water.

Common Mulch to Use in the Winter

When bare soil freezes, the moisture in the frozen soil is less available to the plant, which can lead to winter desiccation.  Mulch comes in many forms, from commercially packaged bags to bales of straw or pine needles to homemade compost.

Here are a few of the most common types of mulch:

Shredded Bark

This is a very common type of mulch that is used across the U.S.  Depending on your point of view, shredded bark is good as it breaks down quickly, helping to feed the soil microorganisms.  Since it breaks down quickly, it should be replenished on an annual basis.  Don’t pile this mulch high upon the base of trees to create what are called “mulch volcanoes”. The mulch should not exceed about 3 inches in depth.  It is also good to purchase composted shredded bark as it will provide more nutrients to your plants.

Straw and Pine Straw

Most homeowners don’t use regular straw as mulch around their home as a decorative mulch.  It usually has a more utilitarian use in vegetable gardens.  When purchasing bales of straw, inquire about weed seeds.  Oat straw has a good number of other weed seeds embedded in the bales, which can lead to future problems.

Pine Straw is probably the most popular mulch used in the many southern states.  It is lighter than shredded mulch and easier to spread. It does tend to interlock as it decomposes, so it is a good choice for sloped areas. As with any other mulch, it does have to be replenished on a regular basis.

Compost

Compost is darker in color, similar in color to many humus type soils, so it can help to enhance the color of many plants in the landscape. It is also the mulch that breaks down faster compared to others.  Since it is already in the composted stage of decaying, it is the best mulch for the health of your plants as it adds to the natural soil food web that exists in the soil. Since it breaks down quickly, it must be refreshed every year.

If you have the space, you can make your own compost, but most homeowners purchase truckloads of it, depending on the size of their landscape beds. It can be a back-breaking task to spread all that compost.

Pine or Cedar Bark Chips

Pine or cedar bark chips provide the least amount of organic content to the soil, mainly since they take a long time to break down.  They are also not a good choice for sloped areas as they are light weight and tend to float away during heavy rain storms. It has also been said that the natural waxes that cover the bark chips will wash over and can cover the soil, repealing water in the long term.

Even though it is the end of the growing season, adding mulch to landscape beds is still possible until the ground begins to freeze and the snow covers the ground. If you have any questions about caring for your lawn and landscape in the winter, call on your neighborhood lawn care professional at Spring-Green.

Fall Chores: 10 Simple Fall Cleanup Tips For The Season

fall chores

One interesting aspect about lawn care, gardening and landscaping is that no two years are ever the same.  Up until the middle of October, the Midwest had been extremely dry and much warmer than usual.  These conditions have delayed the normal fall chores, pushing back such jobs as leaf collection or final mowing to much later in November.

In past years, most leaves have fallen by now and lawns are beginning to harden-off for winter.  There are many, many trees that still have mostly green leaves and the fall leaf color change has just started in some areas.

Although it will soon change, most annual plants are still looking good and only slightly damaged by frost.  The temperatures are forecasted to drop into the lower 20’s for much of the Midwest.  Even the warm season areas are seeing lawns showing signs of frost damage with lawns turning a sort of psychedelic pattern of green and tan colors.  Of course, a short time later, the temperatures rebounded back into the 70’s and 80’s.

Fall Chores and Cleanup Checklist

While waiting for the leaves to drop, here are some other fall chores and projects that can be completed this season:

  1. Plant spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, alliums, etc.
  2. Fall is a great time to divide perennials, except for ones that flower in the fall.  It is best to divide those in the spring.
  3. In areas where the ground freezes, be sure to winterize sprinkler systems by blowing out the water in the lines and shutting down the system for the winter.
  4. In areas where the weather turns cold, turn off water to outside spigots.  At least remove any hoses that are still attached.
  5. Remove leaves and debris out of gutters.
  6. Cover patio furniture or place in a protected area like a shed or garage.
  7. To avoid outdoor pots from breaking during the winter, either cover them and place in a protected area, empty them or move them indoors.
  8. Set up some bird feeders for over-wintering birds like cardinals.
  9. Pull up summer annuals and either compost them or appropriately dispose of them.  Be careful not to compost plants that may have been infected by a disease.  It is better to dispose of those plants.
  10. Winterize lawn mowers and clean garden tools.  A light coating of oil on the tools will keep them from rusting over the winter.

Keep Up With Raking or Mulching Fall Leaves

Don’t let your leaves pile up this fall season. To save some time and effort, grind up leaves with a mower instead of raking them. According to Dr. Aaron Patton, Turfgrass Extension Specialist from Purdue University, tree leaves can be mulched, and the ground up leaves will help to feed the microorganisms in the soil and won’t cause any harm to your grass.

Get started on the fall chores checklist to get your yard ready for winter season. Contact your local Spring-Green if you need help, Spring will return in only 5 months.

Fall Leaf Removal: What You Need To Know

raking leaves in the fall

It’s that time of year again when leaves begin to fall from the trees and shrubs, summer annual weeds like crabgrass and spotted spurge begin to die and the temperatures begin to cool off.

A light scattering of leaves won’t harm a lawn, but excessive cover of several inches prevents sunlight from reaching it. The leaves seem to “glue” together as they get wet from rain and are on the lawn for an extended period of time. This will prevent the grass plants from making carbohydrates that are needed to carry it through the winter.

Raking leaves used to be such a laborious task. It also became expensive as many municipalities started to require that all yard waste be put into paper bags with a sticker. These stickers cost upwards of 3 or more dollars each. It is not uncommon to see twenty or more of these bags lined up in front of someone’s home on garbage day…

There are options for fallen leaves other than bagging them up and putting them out for the trash collector.

Composting is a great way to handle the leaf cover. Most lawn mowers are of the mulching variety and do a great job shredding up the leaves. It is important to stay ahead of the dropping of the leaves and don’t let them get too thick. It will still work, but it will take a much longer time. It may even require you to go back and forth across the same area several times.

Some people may think that mulching the leaves will add to the thatch layer. Research at Michigan State University used a mulching mower to shred up to about one pound of leaves per square yard of lawn (one pound is equal to approximately 6 inches of leaves piled on the grass) for five consecutive years. They found no long-term effects of the shredded leaves on turf quality, thatch thickness, organic content of the thatch, or soil test results (pH, nutrients, etc.).

Go ahead and mow leaves if you have a cool-season lawn, it makes sense to be on a fall nitrogen fertilization program and core-aerate in the fall. If you have a warm-season lawn, you can still use this technique but wait to fertilize and core-aerate until the following late May or early June. For information on fall core aeration contact your local Spring-Green.

Should You Overseed Your Lawn This Spring?

lawn

A common question we receive in the spring is in regards to overseeding your lawn.  If you live in an area with warm season grasses, like Centipede or Bermuda grass, reseeding is not a very common practice and it does not work all that well. For those who live in areas where cool-season grasses like bluegrass or turf-type tall fescue grow, seeding can be a successful and a necessary part of caring for your lawn.

The best time to overseed an existing lawn is late summer until early fall. If you did not have a chance to do so last year, it might be something you want to take care of this spring.

You can overseed in the spring, but here are 4 important aspects that you should consider:

  1. Be conscious of the season for crabgrass preventers – If you seed in spring, you cannot apply most standard crabgrass preventers. These materials keep crabgrass seeds from germinating, as well as the new seeds. In the past if crabgrass has been a problem in your lawn, it would be advisable to wait until the fall to start overseeding. For most crabgrass materials, there is a 16 week waiting period between seeding and applying a crabgrass preventer.
  2. Be conscious of the season for broadleaf weed controlBroadleaf weed control is the same as crabgrass preventers, except the waiting time is less. If a broadleaf weed control is applied to an area, the standard wait time before seeding is 3 to 4 weeks. Once the new grass has germinated and become established, it has to be mowed two or three times before any weeds can be sprayed.
  3. Aerate before broadcasting seed – One of the best methods to ensue good germination is to aerate the lawn first before broadcasting seed across the area. Broadcasting seed across an established lawn will result in little to no germination.
  4. Water, water, water – Finally water is critical to the success of seeding at any time of the year. Once the seed germinates, the roots are tiny and have an immediate need for water.  If the roots dry out, the seed will die. Be sure you have some way to provide adequate water once the seed has been broadcast across the area. The best method is to have an automatic sprinkler system. If the system has not been started for the year when you complete the seeding, you may have to manually water the areas until your system is turned on. Depending on the variety of seed, you may need to keep the area moist for 4 to 6 weeks after seeding.

As you can see, seeding in the spring is not the easiest thing to do, especially when dealing with weeds. It is often better to keep the weeds down throughout the summer and then complete the seeding in the fall.  If you are a Spring-Green customer, contact your local Spring-Green and they will advise you with the best information on helping your lawn looks its best.

How and When to Separate Hostas and Other Perennials

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In keeping with the recent theme of fall gardening projects, now is a good time to divide perennials if you haven’t done so in several years. Most flowering perennials benefit from being divided or thinned out to allow for more room for the roots to grow and better develop. This is a practice that should be done every three or four years, depending on the plant. If the plant flowers in the spring or summer, fall is the best time to divide them. Conversely, if the plant flowers in the fall, you should separate them in the spring.

Dividing Plants in the Fall

One good thing about dividing plants in the fall is that you usually have some time before you have to replant them. It is not like the spring when everything is beginning to send up new shoots and the roots are actively growing. The plants that I try to thin or divide in the fall are irises, hostas, daylilies, coneflowers and daisies. In all honesty, I have not split one bed of hostas for almost 10 years, so they are really crowded in their present location. I recently split my irises and daylilies, so they can go for a couple of more years.

If you plan to divide the plants, you have to be willing to dispose of the ones you don’t want unless you have a few friends who would like to add them to their garden. If you plan to thin the ones you have and relocate the extras to another location, it is better to have the new location prepared before starting the process. Be sure to choose an area where the plants will prosper. For example, hostas are shade-loving plants. If you transplant them into a spot with full direct sun during the day, they will turn brown next summer.

How to Divide Hostas

Digging up the hostas is not difficult, as long as the soil is somewhat moist. Since it’s been warmer than normal for late October/early November where I live, the hostas still look good. To dig them up, I use a pitch fork and pull them up in a clump. Don’t worry if you end up spearing a plant or two as hostas are very hardy and can withstand a good deal of abuse.

Once you have dug up a clump, shake off the soil from the roots and start pulling them apart into individual plants. You may need to use a good pair of clippers to divide multiple plants. I throw the separated plants into a big bucket or a burlap sack to make them easier to transplant.

Planting Divided Perennials

When I transplant my perennials, I usually will dig a large dish-shaped hole or a narrow trench in which to place the plants. Since my hostas still have leaves, I will cut them off before I place them into the soil. Arrange them so that the roots are spread out and are placed slightly higher than where they were planted originally. Backfill the plants with soil and water them in. I like to cover the plants with leaf mulch from mowing my leaves. I put the bagger attachment on my mower, run it across a part of my lawn to pick up the leaves and then dump the clipping s and ground up leaves over the newly transplanted plants.

The biggest challenge you will face when transplanting is having nice weather in which to do the work. Another challenge is having enough sunlight to get all the work done. It starts getting dark around 4:30 in the afternoon, so you have to work fast. The rewards of having new plants that didn’t really cost you anything except some sweat and sore muscles are well worth the time.

Do you need other assistance with your fall lawn care? Get in touch with your local Spring-Green for information on our guaranteed lawn care services and cost-effective package deals.

Fall Yard Chores: Get a Head Start on the Spring

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In my last blog post, I wrote about pulling up annual plants, judging which ones did well, cutting back perennials and mulching instead of raking your leaves. Here are some other chores to finish before winter sets in:

If you have a sprinkler system and haven’t had it blown out yet, time is rapidly running out.

Apply one more fertilization for the fall. For warm season grasses, you want to use a fertilizer that has very little nitrogen in it. For cool-season grasses, you want to apply a fertilizer that contains a high percentage of nitrogen.

If the temperatures are in the mid 50’s or above, plants will still be photosynthesizing, which means you can still control broadleaf weeds. This is the time of year to spray the difficult to control weeds, like wild violets or ground ivy. As these plants move food into their roots, the weed control will also be moved, working to control these weeds so that they will be less of a problem next year.

Fall is a great time to root feed your trees and shrubs. The best way to do this is to use a root feeder. You can purchase a root feeder at many hardware stores or home improvement centers, although most people hire a professional tree care company like Spring-Green to do the work for them.

Fall is also a great time to clean up your lawn mower. Many hardware stores provide this service, or you can do it yourself. If your mower has a 4-cycle engine, drain and replace the oil. Clean out the underside of the deck and scrape out the built up grass. Remove and sharpen the mower blade. Add a fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank so that it is ready to go next spring.

Finally, be sure to unscrew your garden hose from the spigot. I live in an area where temperatures often dip well below freezing, so I have to make sure I turn off the water inside so that the pipes do not freeze.

Fall always is a sad time in regards to gardening, at least for those of us that live in the northern climates. Spring will return before we know it and the whole process starts again. I can’t wait for the first of the seed catalogs and gardening fliers to start arriving in January.

If you’ve got better things to do, don’t worry—it’s not too late to start lawn care service. Get more info on our competitive rates, quality guarantee, and variety of services today.

Sometimes You Have To Take Advantage of Nice Weather When You Can

We are enjoying some terrific weather this fall throughout the Midwest. This fall, there’s only been one day that I actually saw any frost on the grass. Even then, it only occurred in a few low spots. In fact, this entire week has been close to or above 70 degrees, which is great, but definitely not the norm for northern Illinois in the first week of November.

I was able to take advantage of the great weather when I took a vacation day. I started pulling up all of the annual flowers I planted earlier this year and cut back the perennials for the winter. The plants still looked great, but there comes a time when you have to get the work done while the weather is still good. It’s sort of sad to pull out healthy plants, but it has to be done.

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One way to help prevent the reoccurrence of disease problems, especially foliar diseases, is to cut back and dispose of this year’s growth so that the reinfection of the plants is minimized. Leaving the foliage on plants over the winter will increase the likelihood that the disease will come back again next year.

I evaluate which plants grew well and which ones didn’t when I take stock pulling out the plants. My yard is very shady, so I am somewhat limited to the type of annuals I can plant, so I usually stick with begonias and coleus as the primary plants. It is nice that there are many new varieties and colors of coleus now available. I also like the new Bat-Wing begonias as they will produce a fairly good sized plant. The one plant I do not grow is impatiens. I will plant the New Guinea varieties, but not the common inpatients.

A disease known as Downy Mildew almost made this plant obsolete as by summer’s end. All that is left are stems with a few weak-looking flowers on the tips. Hopefully, the breeders will develop a plant that is resistant to the disease as normal fungicides have little effect on the disease.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog posts you will already know that I am not an advocate of raking leaves. I am one that encourages people to grind up the leaves on their lawn with their lawn mower and let nature break them down. The only raking I do anymore is raking the leaves that blow against my fence. I then move them out into the lawn so that they can be ground up when I mow. Even when the ground-up leaves are over an inch thick, I know that, by next spring, they will all be gone. I may have to mow my lawn more than once each time, but it is a good deal easier that raking all the leaves.

The long range forecast for the Midwest predicts warmer than normal temperatures. Some winters are just like that, which is fine with me after enduring some really cold winters during the last three years. Thinking back on the previous winters, I remember mowing my lawn on New Year’s Day not too long ago. The only thing I hope for is snow on Christmas. Temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s for the rest of the winter is fine by me.

Do you have any other fall lawn care chores you like to take care of when the weather is nice? Let us know in the comments!

Why You Should Call the Pros to Winterize Your Sprinkler System

There are fall tasks that everyone needs to complete, such as raking leaves and stowing outdoor furniture. If you own a sprinkler system and live in an area where the ground freezes, you need to get the water blown out of the pipes. This process is often referred to as winterizing your sprinkler system. It is already the end of October, so this task needs to go to the top of the list.

Spring Green Lawn Truck and Equipment

Why Can’t I Do It Myself?

Winterizing your sprinkler system is not something that most homeowners can tackle on their own, regardless of what those YouTube videos show. Most people don’t own an air compressor that can deliver 50 cubic feet of air per minute. That means you would have to rent a large pull-behind industrial air compressor that is going to cost more to rent than hiring a professional company to do it for you.

Control Panel for Sprinkler System

When winterizing your sprinkler system, check for broken heads, rotors or other plumbing problems. The company you hire should have the experience and knowledge to inform you of any problems. You may want to wait until the following spring to fix them, but at least you’ll know what has to be fixed.

The type of backflow preventer your system has varies by state. In some cases, the backflow preventer has to be removed and stored for the winter. In Illinois, a licensed plumber has to perform a test on the backflow preventer before the sprinkler system is started up again in the spring.
Another item that needs attention is the controller. The battery should be removed from the unit. If it is hard wired, than be sure to turn it off for the winter.

Keeping your sprinkler system in good running condition is easy to do if you hire someone to do the fall winterization as well as the spring start up process. Don’t wait too long to contact a reputable sprinkler service company to blow out your sprinkler system. It can turn cold quickly, which can mean trouble for your system.

Spring-Green offers sprinkler system maintenance in certain markets. Contact your local Spring-Green owner to see if this service is offered in your area.